Solent University came into being in 2005 when Southampton Institute transformed itself into a university. The three historical antecedents of Southampton Institute (and Solent University) were the Southampton School of Art, a private school formed in 1855 and originally based in the Victoria Rooms on Portland Terrace and thereafter occupying a number of premises in the town; the School of Navigation, formed in 1925 as a department of Southampton University College (later the University of Southampton); and the College of Technology, built on East Park Terrace in 1964.

In 1969 the Technical College separated from the College of Technology and became Southampton City College. In 1973 new premises of the School of Art, later to be renamed the College of Art, were opened on East Park Terrace adjacent to the College of Technology. In 1978 the College of Art and College of Technology merged to form Southampton College of Higher Education. In 1984 the School of Navigation, now based at Warsash and soon to be renamed Warsash Maritime Centre, joined the College of Higher Education, which was renamed Southampton Institute of Higher Education in the same year.

In 1994 the Mountbatten Library was opened on East Park Terrace and the former Plummers Department Store on Above Bar Street was acquired and renamed the James Matthews Building.

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